How many times have you come back from a holiday and set about the mundane task of clearing out your inbox?
And have you ever stopped to pay attention to how few of those emails you actually feel compelled to read immediately or save for later?
Maybe there’s one from your best friend from uni…
Perhaps there’s one from your mum, reminding you about Auntie Jean’s birthday…
And maybe there are one or two marketing emails that sound intriguing enough to enjoy with your lunchtime ham sandwich…
The rest get sent straight to your e-trash.
The average human receives at least 15 marketing emails every single day. Most of those emails are either stuffy, boring or just plain spamtastic. It’s no wonder the average email open rate is way below 20%.
That’s because most marketing emails are instantly assigned to the “B-pile”. Let me explain…
Legendary A-list copywriter, Gary Halbert first came up with the idea of A-pile mail vs B-pile mail. At the time, he was referring to physical mail that landed in your real-world letterbox.
But the same principle applies to email.
Think about it – when you open your inbox, the first thing you do is scope out your most important emails. You do that by looking at who the email is FROM.
Emails from clients, colleagues, friends and family go onto the A-Pile. These are the emails you devour immediately (especially if you know one of them contains juicy gossip about who ran off with whose husband the other week). Or they’re the emails you flag to pay attention to later.
Whether you read them now or you read them later, they WILL get read at some point that day.
Your B-Pile consists of work emails you’ve been cc’d on that probably don’t require your attention. They also consist of emails from former friends you’ve now blacklisted (maybe that’s just me) OR marketing emails.
Rarely will marketing emails ever make it onto the A-pile. In over 80% of cases, marketing emails go straight in the bin. (But note that I said ‘rarely’ and not ‘never’).
Sometimes, an email marketer writes emails that are so compelling and so high-value that they earn their place on your A-pile. These are the emails that make your heart do a little tap dance when they land in your inbox.
By sending great emails, the sender is able to achieve practically the same status as emails from friends and family. The truth is, few email marketers will ever achieve this coveted status. That’s because most email marketers vomit a few lines of copy into their email marketing software without much consideration for the way it might land.
The good news is, there are several techniques you can implement in your email copy, to help you work your way onto the email A-pile. The result? You achieve higher open, click and reply rates on every email you send.
Which is why I’m excited to share these 4 ways to transform beige email copy into personality-packed inbox fodder your prospects can’t wait to devour.
Follow these simple strategies and you’ll have the power to boost your email engagement and sky rocket your sales.
1. Write like you speak
A few months into running my first business, I realised I was suffering from a major hangover from my days in corporate.
When you spend 50 hours a week working in a grey suity environment, you start to sound grey and suity. There’s something about corporate-speak that makes everyone who ever worked in an office absorb the corporate jargon and writing style by process of osmosis.
And once it’s entered your brain and your bloodstream, it can feel virtually impossible to shake. Trouble is, this is how most business owners write.
They believe that the only way for anyone to take them seriously, is to sound like a pin-striped suit.
That might be true when your work email is being monitored by the HR police. But in the world of online marketing, holding on to corporate speak is like clinging on to a sinking ship. And like a sinking ship, the only way is down for your email open and click rates.
Which is why you need to wave goodbye to corporate writing and re-learn how to write like you speak…in real life…not like when you’re in a meeting with the procurement officer.
What amazes me, is how hard it is to shake the corporate habit.
After all, we’ve been trained for decades by our teachers and bosses to write proper. We’ve been taught for years not to split infinitives and to never ever start a sentence with the word ‘and’.
Those lessons can be seriously difficult to unlearn. Especially when you can hear the voice of Mrs Painter shrieking in your ear each time you dangle a preposition.
Luckily, it can be done – it just takes a bit of self-awareness and a willingness to practice writing in a way that feels completely different. The good news is, that when you get into a flow and you find your style, your writing becomes much more fun.
So, if you can stomach the initial discomfort, I promise you it’s totally worth it.
But how do you do it? How do you go about writing like you speak?
The first thing to do is figure out what your real life personality is. If you’re not sure who you really are, don’t worry. Most of us aren’t. You can always email your friends and family…or post on social media…asking people to describe you in 3 words or less.
Are you funny? Intelligent? Sarcastic? Witty? Serious? Warm? Kind?
These attributes will all come across in the way you speak, which is why it’s important to get a sense of how other people see you.
Once you know who you are, you can start to develop a tone of voice through the words you choose. For example, if people describe you as calm and compassionate, it’s unlikely you’re someone who drops f-bombs every 5 minutes.
The next thing you can do is read your emails aloud. Listen to how your words sound and feels when you say them out loud. If you stumble on awkward phrases, or feel robotic, that’s a sign that you’ve reverted to corporate.
Or if you want to take it even further, you can record yourself as you read your copy aloud. Play it back and listen to how it sounds. Does the recording sound like you speaking in your natural voice? If yes – you’ve nailed it! If no, it’s time to edit the sections where you sound too professional.
2. Create visuals with your words
When I first started writing email copy, I kept hearing other writers saying ‘show don’t tell’.
I feel a bit dumb admitting this, but I had no idea what they were talking about. Which is why I want to explain what it means, in case you’re confused like I was.
Our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than words on a page. In fact, people remember 80% of what they see, versus just 20% of what they hear or read.
Now, it’s not always possible to create slide decks or videos. Sometimes you need to rely on your written words to get your message across. Which means you’re constantly fighting against your readers’ cognitive limitations when you write an email.
Luckily, there’s a way to jump over that hurdle. And when you crack it, not only will your email copy be easier to digest, it will also be more memorable and show off your quirks and your personality way more than plain vanilla text on a screen.
This is why showing and not telling is so important.
It’s a way of expressing an idea in a way that conjures up images in your readers’ mind. Imagine your email playing out like a film reel inside your prospects’ head, instead of them scanning a bunch of letters and words.
That’s so much more powerful than standard words.
Let me give you an example:
Joe was finding it hard to write. He’d been struggling for hours.
That’s OK…it gets the message across clearly, but it’s not very interesting.
“Joe thumped his head on his desk *boom boom boom*. He’d already chewed through 5 pencils. A pile of paper snowballs was multiplying on the floor around his feet. But after 3 hours, 25 minutes and 42 seconds sitting in front of his screen, his Google Doc was so empty it was laughing at him.”
Of the two, which one allowed you to see Joe’s struggle unfolding behind your eyes? And which one made you feel something for Joe?
That’s the power of showing versus telling. It’s something you should aim to do as much as possible when you’re writing emails. Make them come alive with colourful, specific details so your reader can enter the story and become the hero.
This is how you create a better experience for the reader and boost your email engagement rates.
3. Play around with interesting word choices
One of my favourite websites, where I nerd-out on language, is thesaurus.com.
As you can probably tell from the name, it’s an online thesaurus where you can power up your word choice and give your email copy an instant lift.
Often, when we’re writing email copy, all we want to do is get the job done. Trouble is, this can lead to lazy word choices. And lazy word choices are often boring word choices.
What do I mean by that?
Well, when you’re in a hurry you’re likely to choose the first words that spring to mind. These are the kind of ho hum words that everyone chooses because they roll off the tongue like meatballs off the table.
Like…the word “nice.”
Has there ever been a more mundane word than the word “nice”?
In fact, I give it a level 100 on the blah scale.
If you want to inject more personality and more pizazz into your emails, stop yourself before a single wimp word attaches itself to your page. Then, replace it with a power word (or series of words) that express the same meaning…just in a way that’s unique to you.
So how can you improve a word like “nice”?
- You could use a simile – e.g. Trevor was nice as a pink doily in granny’s conservatory.
Now, when it comes to using similes, I urge caution. What you don’t want to do, is borrow similes your audience has already ignored 1,000 times before.
Similes like…black as soot. Cold as ice. These are so common, they’ve lost all their power.
The key is to make up your own, so your reader has to make the connection and visualise what you’re describing. Show don’t tell, again…see?
- You could throw your adjective in the bin – A few weeks ago I got into an argument with my 7-year old’s teacher about the use of adjectives and adverbs. I told my daughter to avoid them wherever possible, and instead use power verbs or nouns to express the same idea.
Turns out, that’s not a helpful lesson from mummy when Year 2 is trying to learn about parts of speech.
Describing words have their place.
But they’re often a sign that you’ve settled for a lazy noun or verb.
E.g. It was a nice meal
Totally ho hum.
How about swapping out the word ‘meal’ for a different word with precisely the right energy to convey ‘niceness’ or joy?
Like, “feast” or “fiesta” or “blowout”
- You could even make up words – My children adore a science podcast called Wow in the World. If you have small children, it’s a show I highly recommend for little ones.
One of the hosts uses a series of expressions that have my children in fits of hysterics every single time.
One of those expressions is: bonker balls.
It’s silly but my kids love it. Plus it’s totally on-brand and unique to Wow in the World.
There are lots of opportunities for you to modify existing words or create completely new ones, to brighten up your email copy.
- Work on your sign-off – For most email writers, the way they sign off their email is an after-thought.
While most online business owners have evolved beyond saying ‘yours sincerely’ at the end of their message, it’s likely they’ve chosen something equally bland and generic.
Don’t forget, you want to leave a lasting impression with your reader.
If you sign off with a beige goodbye like ‘see you later’ or ‘until next time’, it’s a bit like when you listen to an amazing song on the radio and the song ends by fading out.
This ^^ is the most lazy and low impact way for a song to end.
Compare that to the ending of Song 2 by Blur. It was so abrupt that it was almost jarring BUT it definitely woke you up and ended the song on a memorable note.
It’s the same with your email.
Do you want your email to fade out like a reality TV career? Or end with a bang (or at least a chuckle)?
Try to mix up the way you close out your emails. Inject a bit of personality into your parting words so you leave your reader smiling, bewildered, inspired or even angry.
The best place to go for sign-off inspiration is Justin Blackman. He has a free download with 93 comedy goodbyes that you can borrow or play with in your own emails.
Being lifeless over email is a choice, not a given.
Truth is, it does take practice to inject personality into your writing. Especially if you’ve jumped from a grey-suity corporate into the murky underbelly of online business.
I can forgive you for your writing sins.
The reality is, that this isn’t some quick fix magic wand. It takes time to figure out how you want to sound. It also takes time to execute and make your written words sound like you.
But once you crack the code, you’ll start to see higher open, click and conversion rates on your emails as you join the coveted A-Pile in your prospects inbox.
If you enjoyed the blog, why not check out the AUDIO version over on my podcast page? Click HERE to listen to the episode now.
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